Clinton hit by sex claims in new book

A long-standing aide and confidante of President Bill Clinton was "convinced" that some state troopers were soliciting women for him when he was Governor of Arkansas, according to a new book. It asserts, moreover, that fears of scandal caused Mr C lintonnot to run for the Democratic nomination in 1988.

The claims in First in His Class, a biography of the 42nd President by Washington Post reporter David Maraniss, are not in themselves new.

For the first time, however, they have come from within the Clinton camp, and their impact has not been dented by a rather lame denial yesterday from the aide, Betsey Wright, who maintains she was "misunderstood" in what she told Maraniss about the troopers.

The troopers' tales were first aired in the press at the end of 1993 - and one would-be tryst which emerged then led directly to Paula Jones' sexual-harassment lawsuit which so embarrasses the White House today.

In one of its most vivid passages, the book contends that Ms Wright, then Mr Clinton's chief of staff, confronted her boss about the rumours of extramarital affairs as he was pondering whether to enter the 1988 campaign. The topic could not have been more explosive; shortly before, Senator Gary Hart of Colorado, the early Democratic front-runner, had been forced to withdraw after admitting philandering.

Ms Wright apparently was convinced "some state troopers were soliciting women for him, and he for them". Urging the Governor to "face the issue squarely", she drew up a list of Mr Clinton's rumoured paramours, and told him: "I want you to tell me the truth about every one." They went over the list and at the end, according to the book, she suggested he not run, out of deference to his wife and daughter.

Ms Wright now says she was misunderstood, and that the discussions with then Governor Clinton had laid the rumours to rest. But she advised him against running because "liars and gold-diggers could come out of the woodwork" - exactly what happened, she says, when Mr Clinton was a candidate in 1992.

The book is an unwelcome distraction for Mr Clinton, reminding voters of that eternal "character problem" just when doubts about his trustworthiness are receding and his approval ratings are edging higher.

Apart from the claims of womanising, it resurrects the draft-dodging controversy which still haunts Mr Clinton by claiming he first tried to destroy a compromising 1969 letter back in 1974, when he vainly ran for Congress. Mr Clinton thought he had succeeded, but the original letter, thanking an Officer Training Corps director for "saving" him from Vietnam, was leaked to the media during the 1992 New Hampshire primary.

Worse trouble may be on the way on the Whitewater front, for which Mr Clinton's unpaid legal bills stand at almost $1m (£641,000), according to the trustees of his legal defence fund in their first report. Ominous silence has fallen over the investigations of Kenneth Starr, special prosecutor, amid reports that fresh charges are imminent. And why, the conspiratorially minded wonder, would the President's Republican foes have agreed to delay congressional hearings into the affair unless they were sure that discomfort enough was on the way from Mr Starr?

Meanwhile, the Republican contest for the nomination to challenge Mr Clinton intensifies. Bob Dole, Senate majority leader and front-runner, has confirmed he will run next year- but perhaps only for one term, given his age of 71. The Indiana Senator Richard Lugar says he is considering a candidacy, while William Weld, Governor of Massachusetts, admits to be testing the waters.

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